The Feast of Iskandar and Nushabah from Niẓāmī's "Iskandarnamah"


The painting on the recto and the text on the verso of this fragment describe an episode in Niẓāmī's Iskandarnamah (The book of Alexander the Great), the last text of the author's Khamsah (Quintet). In his work, the great Persian author Niẓāmī Ganjavī (1140 or 1141–1202 or 1203) describes the adventures and battles of Alexander the Great as he travels to the end of the world. On his way to the Land of Darkness, he visits the queen of the Caucasian city of Barda, Nushabah, in order to seek her financial and logistical support. Disguised as a messenger, Alexander nonetheless is recognized by Nushabah, who is familiar with his facial traits from a painting located in her treasure house of portraits. While keeping his identity a secret, she organizes an 'ishrat (large feast) for him and invites him to sit next to her on a golden throne. Servants and musicians surround the couple, as described in Niẓāmī 's text on the fragment's verso. The text located above and below the painting is executed in fine Persian cursive script known as Nasta'liq. Because the verses precede and follow a composition, they are outlined in cloud bands and located on an illuminated gold ground decorated with flower and vine motifs. The painting's composition is typical of illuminated manuscripts made in Shiraz (southwestern Iran) during the second half of the 16th century. These manuscripts usually were produced for the market rather than for a royal patron.

Last updated: December 24, 2013